By Michael Perry
The Cincinnati Enquirer
After the first several preseason practices a year ago, Taron Barker often found himself sitting down in a daze, a little lost, a lot uncertain.
UC point guard Taron Barker.
(Brandi Stafford photo)
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"I didn't know what was going on," Barker said. "I didn't know what to do."
On Sunday night, after the University of Cincinnati's second basketball practice this season, the 6-foot-1 senior had a smile on his face and a bounce in his step.
Barker is expected to take over as the Bearcats' starting point guard. He is trying to be a leader and frequently helps freshman point guard Chadd Moore.
"He's having a lot more fun than he did last year," UC assistant coach Keith LeGree said. "He's getting other people better. He's talking people up. You didn't see that a year ago. You saw a lot of frustration."
Of course you did.
Barker was a two-time team MVP at Odessa (Texas) College. He was accustomed to being a leader and being one of the best players. Instead, he found himself regularly abused during practice by Steve Logan, who went on to be a consensus All-American.
At first, Logan confounded Barker, who tried to be physical but still couldn't stop Logan. The two almost came to blows several times during practices.
By later in the season, Barker found himself studying Logan on and off the court, observing him, talking to him.
"I had to talk to him to know what he was thinking," Barker said. "I wanted him to share his ideas.
"He just came out and tried to embarrass you. Everything he did, it was like, 'I'm coming at you. You're trying to stop me from feeding my family.' That's how he took it, and that's how I've got to take it."
Barker appeared in 31 of 35 games, averaging 2.5 points and 11.3 minutes. He totaled 44 assists and 22 turnovers.
"I had to accept my role last year," Barker said. "That was the hardest thing for me. I didn't care if I had to get down on the floor and chase the ball around on my hands and knees, I just wanted to be out there. Now that I've got the opportunity, I have to capitalize on it.
"I'm hungry. I want to go all out and just play hard every day."
Barker has set UC records for guards by bench-pressing 370 pounds - the most by any player on this year's team - and squatting 515. His arms measure 17 inches around, and he has just 8 percent body fat.
"I don't know of any other guard in the country that's as strong as him, and I talk to a lot of strength coaches," said Scott Greenawalt, UC's assistant strength coach. "I'd say he definitely ranks among the top. That's going to be his biggest asset."
Moore, who is about 20 pounds lighter than Barker, found that out the hard way during a summer pick-up game in Laurence Hall.
"I remember one time I crossed him (with a dribble) as hard as I could and tried to go by him, and he just tapped me with his forearm and I flew across the court." Moore said. "I knew then it was going to be tough."
Barker will help the Bearcats if he can maintain his 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio, improve on last year's field-goal (.359) and free-throw percentages (.593) and hit some 3-pointers. He also has to play defense and make good decisions on fast breaks.
"He's real important," UC senior Leonard Stokes said. "Somebody's got to bring it up the floor without turning it over. Last year, he used to be a little bit careless with the ball. This year, he's taking pride in taking care of the ball, getting guys in the spots where they need to be."
Said Barker: "I could be having a bad day outside of basketball, but when I lace up my tennis shoes, I know it's all business.
"I've got to come ready to play and be focused because that's what my team is looking at me for. They're looking at me for leadership, and that's what I've got to bring to the table."
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